In April 2008, a senior British intelligence official flew to Tel Aviv to deliver an explosive revelation to his Israeli counterparts: Britain had a mole in Iran with high-level access to the country’s nuclear and defense secrets.
The spy had provided valuable information — and would continue to do so for years — intelligence that would prove critical in eliminating any doubt in Western capitals that Iran was pursuing nuclear weapons and in persuading the world to impose sweeping sanctions against Tehran, according to intelligence officials.
The identity of that spy has long been secret. But on Jan. 11, the execution in Iran of a former deputy defense minister named Alireza Akbari on espionage charges brought to light something that had been hidden for 15 years: Mr. Akbari was the British mole.
Mr. Akbari had long lived a double life. To the public, he was a religious zealot and political hawk, a senior military commander of the Revolutionary Guards and a deputy defense minister who later moved to London and went into the private sector but never lost the trust of Iran’s leaders. But in 2004, according to the officials, he began sharing Iran’s nuclear secrets with British intelligence.
He appeared to get away with it until 2019, when Iran discovered with the assistance of Russian intelligence officials that he had revealed the existence of a clandestine Iranian nuclear weapons program deep in the mountains near Tehran, according to two Iranian sources with links to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.